Friday, March 27, 2009

More background info

There's usually confusion about how Americans can visit Cuba, so, before committing to going on the trip I researched a couple of things: I looked into Cuba Education Tours and found that they donate part of the money I'd spend being in Cuba. This Canadian organization supports projects on the island, for instance, architectural preservation, environmental conservation, health care and educational programs. Specifically, CET collaborates with Cuban organizations such as:

Casa del Niño y la Niña/House of the Boy and Girl, is a Central Havana neighborhood (called Cayo Hueso) sponsored learning facility for young (3 to 18 year old) Cubans seeking to expand their academic options following the regular school day. The picture on the right includes the director of the House, Rosa Sardinas, a retired television personality who manages the project simply because she thinks it's truly important.

Asociación Cubana de Pedagogos (Association of Cuban Educators), a professional organization advancing the needs of teachers and improving the quality of education delivery and services on the island.

Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina – ELAM (Latin American School of Medicine). (In this picture on the left you see ELAM students on their way to eat lunch.) ELAM was Established in 1999 and is completely financed by the generousity of Cuban people. ELAM is the largest medical school in the world with a current enrollment of over 12,000 students from over 29 countries. All its students are from outside Cuba and mainly come from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. The school also accepts disadvantaged students from the United States; since 2005 there have been 21 students from the US that have graduated. Tuition, accommodation and board are free, and a small stipend is provided. Upon graduation, young doctors are expected to return to their homelands and provide medical services to the poor for a period of three years.

Museo de la Alfabetización/National Literacy Museum(that's me by the entrance) exhibits relics of the 1961 literacy campaign. Prior to the Revolution a quarter of adult Cubans were illiterate and another million were semi literate. Ten thousand teachers were unemployed and 70% of the rural population had no schools. After 1959 all private schools were nationalized and education became free and universal. Former military garrisons were turned into schools. In 1961 all schools were closed for eight months and some 250,000 students and teachers were sent to rural areas to teach reading and writing, laying the foundation for Cuba's stellar literacy rate today. This campaign brought tens of thousands of city youth into contact with the country people, breaking down racial barriers and instilling a spirit of national cohesion.

"Freedom of movement is the very essence of our free society… Once the right to travel is curtailed, all other rights suffer… The right to know, to converse with others, to consult with them, to observe social, physical, political, and other phenomena abroad as well as at home gives meaning and substance to freedom of expression and freedom of the press."
William O. Douglas, United States Supreme Court Justice, 1964

I looked into the "legality" of American citizens being able to visit Cuba. I wanted to understand the situation clearly. Here's what I learned:

* Of course, the US government can't restrict its citizens from traveling anywhere, but it can impose fines and penalties for disobeying laws such as those established by the "embargo"/blockade on Cuba.
* Essentially, it is illegal for US citizens to spend American dollars in Cuba. Thus, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury Department administers Cuba travel restriction.
* There are exceptions, and therefore some lucky Americans can travel to Cuba legally.
* Those exceptions include: official government travelers, journalists, people visiting close relatives once in three years, full time professionals conducting research, full time professionals attending certain international conferences, persons who have received a specific license.
* "Professionals" include, but are not limited to, lawyers, health care specialists, educators, scientists, artists, agronomists and social workers.
* As an academic, I fall under the "full time professionals conducting research" and can travel to Cuba legally on an OFAC General Research License.
* Travel and accommodation costs related to professional development and research can be tax deductible.

(Picture of street scene on the left taken by Vicky.) This is what the Office of Foreign Assets Control says about the General Research License in it's memo called "Comprehensive Guidelines for License Applications to Engage in Travel-Related Transactions Involving Cuba."

"The Regulations currently contain three general licenses authorizing travel-related transactions involving Cuba. General licenses constitute blanket authorization for those transactions set forth in the relevant regulation and are self-selecting and self-executing. No further permission from OFAC is required to engage in transactions covered by that general license. Individuals wishing to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba relevant to... full-time professional research conducted by professionals in their professional areas, or attendance at certain professional meetings or conferences... Section 515.564(a) sets forth a general license authorizing certain travel-related and additional transactions that are directly incident to full-time professionals conducting professional research in their professional areas in Cuba or attending meetings or conferences in Cuba. Research requires a full work schedule of noncommercial, academic research that has a substantial likelihood of public dissemination and is in the traveler’s professional area.... Each person engaging in travel-related transactions under a general license must be able to document how he or she qualifies under the general license. For example, a resume or curriculum vitae generally demonstrates an individual’s full-time professional area. A written work plan done prior to travel might also support an individual’s intention of engaging in a full-time schedule of research. No prior written approval from OFAC is required for travel under a general license."

(Picture on the right of iconic Ministry of Interior Defense Building, with Che's image, in Plaza de la Revolución taken by Vicky.)

* So, traveling with a General Research License may not require that the license be filed before travel; that is, prior permission from OFAC is not necessarily needed.
* You prepare and write the license yourself. You take it with you to Cuba, and present it to US immigration officials upon return to the States.
* There are certain obligations, among them:
* the licensee is for full time professional traveling on a Cuba itinerary related to her/his area of expertise, such as an educators tour.
* The research is of a noncommerical academic nature.
* While in Cuba, licensee activities must comprise a full work schedule of research. For example, over the course of a week, there must be twenty or more hours of research via prearranged meetings and site visits with the balance of research hours conducted individually.
* The licensee's research must have a substantial likelihood for public dissemination. This could include, for instance, a paper circulated amongst professional colleagues, an article contributed to a peer journal or newspaper, a blog entry, a webpage, a public address, slide show, or PowerPoint presentation.
* As a licensed traveler, you can fly to Cuba directly via air charter services from Miami. In that case, you must prepare your General Research License before making reservations, as air charter companies must approve it prior to issuing a ticket.
* When flying via Miami your license will be scrutinized by US officials prior to departure. Plus, you'll have to obtain a visa from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC.
* None of this applies when flying to Cuba from other countries, for example, Mexico, Canada, Jamaica or Dominican Republic.

Yes, it's true: you can see 1950s vintage Chevys with Russian transmissions all over the place. For fun: here is Jackson Browne's song about visiting Cuba, "I'm going down to Cuba." (This video has some pretty cool footage of Cuban life.) Below are the lyrics:

Sometimes I get to feeling low
Wish I could just pick up and go somewhere new
Change my point of view
Maybe somewhere I don't know
Toss the idea to and fro
Not sure what makes it come and go
There it is again: sweet music on the wind
Over the Gulf of Mexico

I'm going down to Cuba someday soon
Following that Caribbean moon
It's been too long since I've been there
I'm going down to Cuba with my friends
Down where the rhythm never ends
Where women wear gardenias in their hair

People will tell you it's not easy
You're not supposed to go, they say
They say that Cuba is the enemy
I'm going down there anyway

I'm going down to Cuba to see my friends
Down where the rhythm never ends
No problem is too difficult to solve
Yeah times are tough down there it's true
But you know they're going to make it through
They make such continuous use of the verb to resolve
They've got to deal with that embargo
Enough to drive any country insane
They might not know the things you and I know
They do know what to do in a hurricane
Maybe I'll go through Mexico
Old Jesse Helms don't have to know
Anyway all the allies of the USA
Travel to Cuba everyday

I'm going down to Cuba to see my friends
Down where the rhythm never ends
Where by comparison my trouble will just unravel
I'm North American, you know
Don't like to hear where I can't go
Free people will insist on the freedom to travel

I'm going to drink the rum mojito
And walk out on the Malecon
In one hand a Monte Cristo
And in the other an ice cream cone

I'm going down to Cuba with my band
We're going to formulate a plan
Whereby we obtain that cultural permission

If I told you once I told you thrice
It'll put a smile on your face to see a Chevrolet with a Soviet transmission
I bet the country cast a spell
And there are things I think of still
Like the beauty of that woman that spoke to me
In the Hotel Nacional

I'm gonna book my flight today
I'm definitely on my way
Just hold my place and I'll get back in the race
And I'm back in the USA

1 comment:

  1. Everything about Cuba in one page

    1) 4X Cuba Travel Photograph
    2) Cuba Travel Doc - Part 01 (Video)
    3) Festival in Varadero, Cuba (Video)
    4) Havana good time: Cuba - Lonely Planet Video
    5) Cuba Wiki Entry
    6) Travel_Cuba Twitter
    7) Cuba (Country Guide) (Amazon)